Alumna wins Hawkinson award for sustainability project in Peru

mezapradokelly330x465Kelly Meza Prado ’16 has been named a Hawkinson Scholar by the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation for Peace & Justice.

She is one of just five students who will receive the scholarship that is awarded each year to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate a commitment to peace and justice.

Meza Prado, who graduated from St. Olaf this spring with a degree in economics and environmental studies, will use the award to create and implement a more efficient and sustainable collective stove and kitchen design for people living in the Andes region of Peru.

“Approximately 82 percent of the rural Peruvian population is affected by indoor pollution,” says Meza Prado, who hails from Concepcion, Peru. “Typical cook stoves’ combustion of biomass fuels emits pollutants that cause respiratory diseases, asthma, cataracts, and cardiovascular diseases — and this problem disproportionately affects women who are exposed to the pollution for longer periods of times.”

With her new design, Meza Prado aims to change this.

The collective stove and kitchen design will also provide an efficient source of heat to counter the effects that climate change is having on the Andes region.

“This past July temperatures reached as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very worrying considering the average for the month of July has been 20 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 15 years,” she says. “Thus, this collective design will aim to be a solution to issues of health, gender, and climate change.”

In addition to the creation of the innovative stove and kitchen model, she will also be conducting research on the effectiveness of the design and will summarize her work in a paper that outlines how it can be part of a wider solution to the obstacles that people in the region face.

To achieve all of this work, she founded an organization called The Sustainable Rural Dwellings Project.

“It’s an association of young professionals — mainly architects and environmental engineers — that I established this summer to seek solutions to environmental issues, largely through innovative design. The collective design, which is still in process, will be the product of the joint collaboration of my organization, the local university, and a local indigenous association,” Meza Prado says.

Meza Prado has already led a project aimed at promoting peace in Peru. In 2014 she received a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace initiative that she used to build greenhouses aimed at addressing agricultural issues in rural Peru. By using local resources and involving local engineers and communities, the project supported the design and construction of a greenhouse to support the growth of vegetables all year round, despite Peru’s volatile weather.

It gave me the opportunity to implement a project for climate change adaptation using a greenhouse design to tackle food insecurity challenges — and that was when I was just a sophomore,” Meza Prado says. “My work this time, which being a Hawkinson Scholar allows me to do, builds on the opportunity that the Davis Projects for Peace gave me to explore concepts of peace and justice in the context of climate change and environmental challenges overall.”

And it’s not just her own prior project experience that can she draw upon for this new endeavor — finding solutions to the challenges of climate change has become a part of Meza Prado’s everyday routine. Upon graduating from St. Olaf, she joined the Natural Capital Project at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.

The Natural Capital Project is a collaborative partnership between Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund that seeks to increase and more efficiently allocate the world’s investment into natural capital.

It has helped me to connect to a wide array of academics, software engineers, sustainability educators, and development and conservation practitioners. This network includes people who have studied indoor pollution and cookstoves in different parts of the world and who have implemented improved-cookstoves projects in the developing world,” Meza-Prado says. “I will be reaching out to this valuable network to learn from their successes and failures, and incorporating these lessons into my project.”